I’ve been a bit quiet recently, as commented by one of the nurses at work. It’s usually a sign that there’s something wrong. And there is.
I’ve been getting back into singing since returning to Sydney from London in January. The year before, I was approached by an X-Factor team member when I was singing karaoke, who told me that I should enter the competition, and that I would do really well. I didn’t take him up at the time, but then I thought that the exposure might be good for me as a singer.
In February, there was the initial round of auditions for X-Factor. They were held over 3 days, and I went along on the Saturday afternoon. There were reputed to have been about 20,000 people auditioning in the whole country. I’m not sure how many they were looking for, but I can imagine that it was only a small percentage of that.
I had to wait about 5 hours for my slot, and there was a lot of tension in the Sydney Convention Centre where it was held. There was a massive quarantine hall, from where people were called into the auditioning area in groups of 10.
While all that was happening, of course, some people were warming up and practicing, and some even took turns to perform in front of the other competitors. Everyone seemed to be very supportive of everyone else. Me being me, I jumped in and harmonized with some people, which everyone really enjoyed, and people were impressed with me. However, some people left the auditioning area in tears, which didn’t do anything for peoples morale.
My turn finally came. You are supposed to have a list of four songs prepared, so naturally, I chose 4 of the songs that I do at my gigs. I sing all of them well, but, as I was quietly confident of making it through, I thought I’d save my strongest songs for the next round.
From the auditioning area, we were individually called into a room with 1 or 2 people to judge us. I
sang “Breakfast at Tiffanys”, which people love hearing me sing, but I had a sinking feeling as the guy watching me remained completely expressionless as I sang. He asked me to sing something else, so I went into “Be Like That” by 3 Doors Down. He was still expressionless.
He sighed. He told me that I had a nice voice, but that I wasn’t ready for performance.
I wasn’t upset at all, but I couldn’t help but have a feeling of “are you serious??”. I was a little confused, but accepted his decision and calmly walked out. I bumped into some of the other contestants on the way home and they asked me how I did, and I told them. They were genuinely shocked. None of them had made it, either. To be honest, most of them, I wasn’t surprised, but some of them, I was. The biggest surprise was that there was a guy who, without being mean about it, had developmental delay (mental retardation). And he sang like somebody who had developmental delay. He made it through.
Not every contestant knew that there were no rules against auditioning more than once, so I went along the next day, because, without being arrogant about it, Saturdays outcome simply wasn’t right. Not only do I regularly get paid to sing, but I’ve had people from the crowd physically hand me money to keep on singing.
Sunday was a bit of a pressured affair, as I had a flight to Melbourne in the evening, so I was one of the first to show up. This time, I thought I’d do my best songs, so I did “Your Song” by Elton John. The judge smiled. He asked me to sing something else in addition, so I did “Under the Bridge”. As I was singing, he was writing things down. When I stopped, he handed me a card and said ‘Congratulations’.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of justice about that. I then went into another area with the other successful contestants where we were interviewed, had our photos taken and signed various documents, and were given information about the next round. It was to be held in May, and we were to be told if we had been selected by mid April. If it got to May, and we hadn’t heard from them, that was to be taken as a no.
Not that I was hanging out for their call, but it got to May, and I hadn’t heard from them, so I assumed that I was no longer in the competition. But a week later, I got a call from them saying they wanted me at the audition in 2 weeks time. It would be at the Sydney Arena in front of the celebrity judges (Ronan Keating, Mel B, Natalie Bassingthwaigte and Guy Sebastian).
They called me again 2 days before the audition to discuss the music. I normally sing soft rock, ballads and easy listening music, but they were being really weird about what I could sing. They didn’t want me to do anything nice. They wanted me to sing Boogie Wonderland. Now, I love Boogie Wonderland from my time as a 70s dancer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I can sing it. They seemed insistent that I do something lively and cheesy. The only song I was vaguely familiar with that they would let me do was “Need You Tonight” by INXS, so I set about learning the words to it, remembering that they wanted a big performance from me, and the song choices were to be forwarded to the judges that day.
Things got even stranger when, on audition day at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, they insisted that we acted like it was the very first round.
We had a music check, but I was only allowed to listen to the beginning of the song.
As I walked onto the stage, one of the coordinators told me “Say nothing about the fact that WE chose the music”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as I was more focused on not forgetting the words.
Ronan Keating did most of the interviewing, and was quite curious about my salsa background, as were the crowd. Natalie Bassingthwaigte asked me if I picked up al the nurses at work. I looked at her almost disdainfully, as I explained to her that I didn’t want to get fired.
Keating asked me what I was going to sing. I knew he already knew, but I told him anyway. The music started, and I proceeded to give the big performance that I was asked for. After the second verse, the music stopped. I was a bit confused.
I asked if I did anything wrong. Keating asked me “Do you not see anything wrong with this?”. I was still confused. He said my song choice was creepy. Mel B said that she couldn’t find anything good to say about it, Guy Sebastian said the song was too intense, Bassingthwaigte said it was entertaining, but that I should stick to my day job. I politely said “OK”.
I got 4 straight ‘no’s from the judges, but strangely, it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t nervous speaking to the celebrities at all. I wasn’t nervous performing. The only thing that bothered me was not being allowed to sing my best on (what will be) national television.
On my way out, I spoke to some of the other contestants. The guy before me also got voted off. He also had to learn a song that was completely not his style at 2 days notice (and completely screwed it up). But this wasn’t the case for everyone. Some people had a genuine free choice of song, and had weeks notice to prepare.
The next day, I posted a link to an apology to the judges on each of their Twitter pages, explaining the situation, and that I am actually a very good singer and performer, with YouTube videos as proof. That made me feel a little better.
Over the coming days, I thought ‘hang on a minute- why are you apologising? The judges knew in advance what you were made to sing, and yet they acted like they were surprised by it. Some other things came to mind:
The late call-up: I probably wasn’t a priority for them in terms of wanting me to progress.
Everyone who made it through had their music edited to about 2 minutes. everyone who didn’t make it through didn’t have their music edited, as the producers knew they were going to stop them partway through their song.
Also, people who progressed had at least a month to learn a song of their choice. People who didn’t progress had 2 days to learn a song not of their choice, and highly contrasting to what they would choose to sing.
The fact that they would hand-pick someone with brain damage to sing on TV, and act like it was a
surprise to them.
Being given very short notice to sing music that doesn’t really suit me: they didn’t want me to be at my best.
Being told not to reveal that the music was the choice of the producers: they knew the outcome of the choice would be bad. They wanted it that way.
As I walked off the stage, I was interviewed by 3 different people asking me how I was feeling. Each time, I said I was OK. They seemed disappointed. They just kept on asking if I had anything negative to say. I said no. They seemed even more disappointed. They wanted me to be upset. I genuinely wasn’t.
They set me up.
Not making it through didn’t bother me. Being manipulated into looking like a tool; that bothers me. That’s what weighs on me. That’s why I’ve been quiet at work. I can only dread what will happen if that footage actually goes on air. I took off to Dubai for a week to visit a friend and get away from performing. I’ve spoken to some people in the entertainment industry, and we hatched a plan.
Raz Al Ghoul (Batman Begins): there are those without moral, without decency, who must be fought without hesitation, and without pity.
And so they will be.
The week after my X-factor experience, I took up guitar lessons, and after my third one, I wrote ‘Be This Way’, which got onto the radio in Australia the following year! I continued to sing in local venues, and to write songs, which tell other stories from my diary, and therefore my life, and took them to Sean Carey at Trackdown studios, where we recorded them professionally, and they turned out better than I ever could have hoped, and I’m proud to be able to share my EP with the world.
[I made a video of one of my songs featuring a parody in which I impersonate the judges, re-enacting the experience you have just read about. It was national sensation with over 200,000 views. X-factor refused to comment. One of the snapshots is above]
But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter.
Now this is where I really need you:
Sean is a brilliant producer and a great friend, but the scene here in Australia is small, and not conducive to independent artists. People here love my music, but the logistical support just isn’t here to make it grow. That’s why I’m taking it to the USA. My target date for release stateside is December the 14th.
Needless to say, by releasing this CD on my own, without a record label I’m taking serious risk. Getting signed by a major label is a huge undertaking of itself, and even if I were to do so, they would not allow me pursue the artistic direction that would be true to me as an artist. As you have just read: I am all about telling the story.
I tell the truth. From the heart. Something that X-Factor and Sony would not know the first thing about. This is a lot of pressure and I could really just use your help.
The first week of sales is make or break for a release. Especially without a label. The momentum established in that first week of sales tells the whole industry whether or not the EP has the substance to make people sit up and take notice. People describe my music as a cross between the Chili Pepers and Jack Johnson, and it’s every bit as good. The quality is there. I just need people to notice it. With good numbers, radio, which is already starting to take notice, will give me a bigger platform and higher rotation, meaning, that press and ultimately touring will follow, and my dream is to be a perfomer.
That’s my story. That’s what I need to do in order to make this happen. That first week of sales in America needs to go off with a bang. Show the corporations that control the music industry that real people like you care about real artists who make real music and tell a real story.
If you’d like to help be a part of this story, you can pre-order the CD today.
You can do so by clicking here.
As a show of appreciation for your early support with this EP, everyone who places an order will get a free copy of Factor This- Initial Recordings, plus the drafts of the songs for my subsequent EP, ‘V-Factor’. The compilation consists of an EP download of 11 actual song demos. You can be part of a select group who own the entire journey from my Garageband recordings in my bedroom, through to the recording studio, and then onto bigger stages.
These are the first drafts of my first 11 original songs, in the raw, unproduced form. This has never been offered before and will be the only way to get a copy of these song demos, by pre-ordering original now.
Just place the order now and you’ll be emailed the download link for the Factor This and V-Factor within 48 hours.
All pre-orders will be counted towards the first week of USA sales, and you’ll be a part of showing the industry that it’s not all about the manufactured, mass-produced corporate puppets, but rather that it’s the small, authentic and sincere artists who can make it in music. I love that idea… don’t you?
Thanks for taking the time to read and support my declaration of independence.
– Victor Steele